Juan Crisóstomo de Arriaga

1806 - 1826

Spanish

Biography

Born on January 27th 1806, Spanish composer Juan Crisóstomo de Arriaga was nicknamed ‘the Spanish Mozart’ because, like Mozart, he was a child prodigy and an accomplished composer who died very young. Initially he was taught music by his father and older brother. His father had musical gifts of his own, however chose to go into a life of trading, in order to provide for his family and allow the early musical gifts that his son had shown to be nurtured. In 1822, under the instructions of one of his father’s friends, Juan Crisóstomo moved to Paris where, a year later, he began study at the Paris Conservatory. In this time he studied with violin with Pierre Baillot, counterpoint with Luigi Cherubini and harmony with François-Joseph Fétis. 

All evidence from around this time suggests that Arriaga made a very good impression upon his tutors – Cherubini commented in 1823 after hearing the young composer’s Stabat Mater ‘who wrote this?’ and after learning that Arriaga had composed it, said to him ‘Amazing – you are music itself’. Not much later, Arriaga became a teaching assistant in Fétis’ class becoming a very noted individual among both the students and faculty. What astounded the tutors at the conservatory was the fact that Arriaga could write such harmonically complex and original music with no harmonic training whatsoever. Despite having excellent support during his years in Paris by his father, his health began to deteriorate, due to the intensity of his commitments, which was likely compounded by the immense pressure put on him due to his phenomenal talent. He died ten days before his twentieth birthday from a lung ailment (most likely tuberculosis), or exhaustion, possibly both. Since he was buried in an unmarked grave, in 1977 the Spanish Embassy erected a plaque at his old house in memory of this truly great talent.